Once I had a dear friend whose birthday fell, unfortunately, on December 7. Every year her favorite cousin would call to congratulate her with the words “Happy . . . Pearl Harbor Day!”
She loved to tell me about his teasing, but in truth, I could not comprehend the darkness of December 7, 1941, her twentieth birthday. As with most other difficulties in her life, she handled her birthday with grace and wry humor.
Her difficulties prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor were not inconsiderable. She survived the 1932 super tornado that devastated her small town of Northport, Alabama, riding the storm out in a bed with her brother. And then she contracted polio, which left her in leg braces.
A handicapped girl in small town Alabama in the forties could have easily chosen to live quietly at home. Instead she earned a B.S. from the University of Alabama, a Master’s from UNC, and eventually a Ph.D. in Library Sciences from Columbia. She worked at many universities, finishing her career as a librarian at Georgia Tech.
I met her when she began attending my church after she returned to her family home to retire. At twelve, I was enchanted. She was extremely abreast of everything that seemed important: politics; technological developments (I remember her early computer);theological issues; the number and types of birds in her birdbath; the probability that her cat, Lucky, had eaten one; and the likelihood of a bumper crop of pecans on her giant tree. But more important for me, she engaged children as real people. When I visited her, she always had some pertinent question, as if she had been hoping I would come by just so she could ask it.
Years later, when my first son was born, she sent me (along with a personal note for him to read later) a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, because children over the years had told her it was the first book that really made them feel like they were reading. Of course, she knew this jewel of information because she had thought to ask them.
Although I do not know of her direct participation in the war effort (I cannot imagine her not contributing), she exemplified the best traits of that “Greatest Generation.” Always giving, she was diligent, goal-driven, determined, and gracious. Like the nation, she was stricken but ever resilient.
I never heard her complain of her paralysis. The closest she came was in a confidence. I can hear her deliberate, measured voice even now. “My fondest memories, Anna,” she said, as she glanced at her cane, “Are of walking.”
Later I wondered if she was just speaking of her childhood walks or if she also meant walking as a young adult—one who had thought she would never walk again. Thinking of her triumphant spirit, willing her legs across the floor, I suspect the latter.
Mary Edna Anders went to be with our Lord a decade ago this fall, but on December 7, when the sound of bombing and the words “a date which shall live in infamy” blare from the television, I think of her and of the indefatigable determination that defined her, her generation, and our nation.
And in her memory, I say, “Happy Pearl Harbor Day!”